“I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty,” he told tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican..
“The commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty,” he told the crowd.
The 1.2 billion-strong Catholic church allowed the death penalty in extreme cases for centuries, but the position began to change under the late Pope John Paul, who died in 2005.
The pope added there was now “a growing opposition to the death penalty even for the legitimate defence of society” because modern means existed to “efficiently repress crime without definitively denying the person who committed it the possibility of rehabilitating themselves”.
“All Christians and men of good will are called on to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve prison conditions so that they respect the human dignity of people who have been deprived of their freedom,” he said.
In the past, the pope also denounced life imprisonment, calling it “a hidden death penalty”. He said more should be done to rehabilitate even the most hardened of criminals.